Another look at Laura’s Law
August 31, 2013
I was pleased to read that Yolo County, which is home base for its author, Helen Thompson, is finally implementing Laura's Law.
That is good news. However, this also motivated me to share some other thoughts on the issues addressed by Laura's Law. While it is clear that Laura's Law works well in the few places where it has been adopted, i.e., Nevada County and a few city programs, I continue to wonder whether pre-existing law could have adequately addressed these issues.
There is pre-existing but little-known and rarely used law that I believe could have accomplished much of what Laura's Law does. This is found in Sections 5200 through 5213 of the California Welfare and Institutions Code.
Section 5200 provides authority for any concerned individual to petition the Superior Court to order evaluation and treatment of any other individual thought to present a danger to self or others due to a mental disorder. The subsequent sections provide detailed instructions and procedures to be used to support and process section 5200 petitions and as protection against malicious abuse of section 5200.
I recommend that advocates for assertive outreach, especially those who reside in California jurisdictions that have not chosen to implement Laura’s Law, review WIC sections 5200-5213.
The apparent intent of the legislature in passing this was to add a mechanism to reach and treat persons whose conditions either did not come to the attention of the mental health treatment and evaluation system or were not sufficiently recognized by that system.
These provisions are a sub-set of the Lanterman-Petris-Short Act that replaced the prior "commitment" system for dealing with serious mental illness in the early 1960s. The best-known part of the LPS Act is section 5150, which provides the mental health system with the authority for 72-hour holds for involuntary evaluation and treatment. It is interesting and puzzling that while 5150 is broadly known to the public, section 5200 drew little attention from advocates for more assertive outreach to underserved persons with serious mental illness or anyone else. Indeed, many professionals in the mental health system are not aware of the existence of Section 5200.
I recommend that advocates for assertive outreach, especially those who reside in California jurisdictions that have not chosen to implement Laura's Law, review WIC sections 5200-5213. They should consider and test whether these can be used effectively to reach the population of seriously mentally ill Californians who do not get treatment any other way.
Obviously, the vast majority of these persons are not being assisted by Laura's Law due to its dismal implementation rate. Concerned judges could support this by establishing specialized courts to focus on WIC 5200 petitions, much as Nevada County Superior Court has done in support of Laura's Law petitions.
Robert Erickson is the former Nevada County Behavioral Health director.
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